Geoffrey Miller (psychologist)
In 1987, Miller graduated from Columbia University, where he earned a BA in biology and psychology. He received his PhD in cognitive psychology from Stanford University in 1993 under the guidance of Roger N. Shepard.
Miller held positions as a postdoctoral researcher in the evolutionary and adaptive systems group in the School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences at the University of Sussex, UK (1992–94); Lecturer in the Department of Psychology, University of Nottingham (1995); Research Scientist at the Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition, Max Planck Institute for Psychological Research, Munich, Germany (1995–96); and Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Economic Learning and Social Evolution, University College London (1996–2000). He has worked at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, since 2001, where he is now Associate Professor. In 2009, he was Visiting Scientist, Genetic Epidemiology Group, Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Australia.
Human mental evolution
The starting point for Miller's work was Darwin's theoretical observation that evolution is driven not just by natural selection, but by the process called sexual selection. In support of his views on sexual selection, he has written The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature. His research states that human mate preferences, courtship behavior, behavior genetics, psychometrics, and life history patterns support the survival value of traits related to sexual selection, such as art, morality, language, and creativity. He states that the adaptive design features of these traits suggest that they evolved through mutual mate-choice by both sexes to advertise intelligence, creativity, moral character, and heritable fitness.
Evolutionary psychology of consumerism
Miller's most recent work has used Darwinism to gain an understanding of how marketing has exploited our inherited instincts to display social status for reproductive advantage. Miller argues that in the modern marketing-dominated culture, "coolness" at the conscious level, and the consumption choices it drives, is an aberration of the genetic legacy of two million years of living in small groups, where social status has been a critical force in reproduction. Miller's thesis is that marketing persuades people—particularly the young—that the most effective way to display that status is through consumption choices, rather than conveying such traits as intelligence and personality through more natural means of communication, such as simple conversation.
Miller argues that marketers still tend to use simplistic models of human nature that are uninformed by advances in evolutionary psychology and behavioural ecology. As a result, marketers "still believe that premium products are bought to display wealth, status, and taste, and they miss the deeper mental traits that people are actually wired to display—traits such as kindness, intelligence, and creativity". This, he claims, limits the success of marketing.
Miller's clinical interests are the application of fitness indicator theory to understand the symptoms, demographics, and behavior genetics of schizophrenia and mood disorders. His other interests include the origins of human preferences, aesthetics, utility functions, human strategic behavior, game theory, experiment-based economics, the ovulatory effects on female mate preferences, and the intellectual legacies of Darwin, Nietzsche, and Veblen.
In 2007, Miller (with Joshua Tybur and Brent Jordan) published an article in Evolution and Human Behavior, concluding that lap dancers made more money during ovulation. For this paper, Miller won the 2008 Ig Nobel Award.
Twitter obesity controversy
On June 2, 2013, Miller posted a tweet on Twitter stating, "Dear obese PhD applicants: if you didn't have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won't have the willpower to do a dissertation #truth." Miller subsequently removed the tweet and issued two apologies ("My sincere apoplogies to all for that idiotic, impulsive, and badly judged tweet. It does not reflect my true views, values, or standards"), but not before the post was picked up by major news sources. Feminist blogs including Jezebel, XOJane, and Disrupting Dinner Parties criticized his public, discriminatory statement against obese individuals, and the post received additional criticism from Linda Bacon, a professor of Nutrition at the University of California Davis. Pascal Wallisch, research scientist at the Center for Neural Science at New York University, argued that regardless of whether it is offensive, the claim is factually incorrect.
Miller says that the tweet was part of a research project. The institutional review boards of UNM, Miller's home university, and NYU, where he is a visiting professor, released statements saying that Miller's tweet was "self-promotional" and cannot be considered research. UNM formally censured Miller in August 2013.
- Darwin, Charles. "Chapter IV. Natural selection; or the survival of the fittest. 2. Sexual Selection.". The Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection. Retrieved November 19, 2013. "This leads me to say a few words on what I have called sexual selection. This form of selection depends, not on a struggle for existence in relation to other organic beings or to external conditions, but on a struggle between the individuals of one sex, generally the males, for the possession of the other sex."
- Miller, G. (2000), The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature, London: Heineman, ISBN 0-434-00741-2 (also Doubleday; ISBN 0-385-49516-1).
- Miller G, Spent: Sex, Evolution and the Secrets of Consumerism, London: Random House, May 14, 2009 (ISBN 978-0-670-02062-1).
- Transcript of interview with Geoffrey Miller, All in the mind, ABC Radio National, February 14, 2009.
- Dylan Evans, "Spent by Geoffrey Miller" (book review), The Guardian, August 8, 2009, accessed August 23, 2009.
- Miller, G., Tubur, J. M., & Jordan, B. D. (2007). "Ovulatory cycle effects on tip earnings by lap dancers: Economic evidence for human estrus?", in Evolution and Human Behavior, 28, 375-381.
- "Winners of the Ig Nobel Prize".
- Trotter, J. K. "How Twitter Schooled an NYU Professor About Fat-Shaming". The Atlantic Wire. Retrieved August 4, 2013.
- Bennett-Smith, Meredith (June 4, 2013). "Geoffrey Miller, Visiting NYU Professor, Slammed For Fat-Shaming Obese PhD Applicants". The Huffington Post.
- King, Barbara J. (June 6, 2013). "The Fat-Shaming Professor: A Twitter-Fueled Firestorm". National Public Radio.
- Associated Press. "UNM Prof: 'Obese' Grad Applicants Lack 'Willpower'". ABC News. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
- Walsh, Michael. "NYU visiting professor insults the obese Ph.D.s with ‘impulsive’ tweet". New York Daily News. Retrieved June 4, 2013.
- Cusma, Kathryn (4 June 2013). "Visiting NYU lecturer makes waves with offensive Tweet about fat people". New York Post.
- Beck, Laura. "NYU Prof to Obese PhD Applicants: Thanks, But No Fatties Allowed". Jezebel. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
- "How Not to Twitter: Dr. Geoffrey Miller's 140 Fat-Hating Characters of Infamy". xoJane.
- "What we're reading 6/9/13". Disrupting Dinner Parties. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
- Ingeno, Lauren. "Fat-Shaming in Academe". Inside Higher Ed.
- Wallisch, Pascal. "No relation between body weight and PhD completion".
- The Huffington Post: "Geoffrey Miller, Visiting NYU Professor, Slammed For Fat-Shaming Obese PhD Applicants", June 4, 2013.
- Kingkade, Tyler (July 2, 2013). "Geoffrey Miller Claims Mocking Obese People On Twitter Was Research; University Disagrees". The Huffington Post. Retrieved July 3, 2013.
- Wentworth, Karen. "Professor Geoffrey Miller Censured by UNM." August 6, 2013.
- Glenn Geher and Geoffrey Miller (eds), Mating Intelligence: Sex, Relationships, and the Mind's Reproductive System, New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2008.
- Geoffrey Miller's homepage at the University of New Mexico; this includes downloadable versions of several of his journal articles.
- Precis of The Mating Mind
- Human Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences at the University of New Mexico webpage
- Dutton D. (2000), Review of The Mating Mind
- Consumerism and evolutionary fitness – Geoffrey Miller interviewed on ABC Radio National, YouTube video.